321. ‘Mouldy Old Dough’, by Lieutenant Pigeon

I’ve heard of this song before – for better or for worse – but don’t think I’d ever heard it, in full, until now. And boy, is it strange…

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Mouldy Old Dough, by Lieutenant Pigeon (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 8th October – 5th November 1972

It starts with a military drum beat, and for a second I’m worried that we’re getting 1972’s second pipes ‘n’ drums #1 single. Then we get a flute, and I’m picturing an orange march. Then we get a boozy, woozy, synthesised rock ‘n’ roll piano, and we’re in a crowded German beerhall.

Two immediate points of reference jump out at me. There’s Chicory Tip’s similarly stomping ‘Son of My Father’ from a few months back. And then there’s the work of Joe Meek a decade ago: The Tornados, and ‘Have I the Right?’ and so on. There’s a lot of similarities there, but they don’t fully explain what the hell is going on here.

‘Mouldy Old Dough’ is an instrumental, save for the title being growled by what sounds like a very old man with no teeth. Apparently the line Dirty old man… is also buried in there, deep within the soupy mix, but I can’t make it out. It is so rough and ready, this record. It sounds like an old demo that was burnt, buried in a shallow grave, then dug up years later, released and sent to the top of the charts…

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Have you ever eaten durian? It’s a huge spiky fruit, really popular in south-east Asia, with a smell somewhere between sweaty socks and rotten onions. Apparently, though, if you can get past the stench the actual flesh of the fruit is quite nice. I’ve never been able to get past the stink but feel that ‘Mouldy Old Dough’ might be the durian fruit of #1 singles. Get past your initial doubts and reservations, your initial what the hell?, and by the third or fourth listen you start to find something charming buried deep within its relentless, plodding, churning beat.

The backstory of Lieutenant Pigeon only adds to the record’s charm. They were an experimental band from Coventry, fronted by Rob Woodward, and featuring his mum, Hilda, on piano. She’s basically the star of this record, as it’s her melancholy piano line that holds it all together. ‘Mouldy Old Dough’ was recorded in their living room (what I mistook for synths is just poor sound insulation!) When asked what it was all about, Rob admitted that he had no idea… Despite being the composer. Honest. I like it. The follow-up to this, ‘Desperate Dan’, made #17 and after that the charts were a Pigeon-free zone… The Woodwards are still the only mother and son combo to ever top the UK singles chart.

And isn’t that nice? Lieutenant Pigeon still record and release music to this day, mainly online, while Hilda died twenty years back. She was fifty-eight when this record hit the top of the charts, and she’s still in the Top 10 oldest people to feature on a number one single. By the end the marching beat has transformed into a glam-rock stomp as we fade out. As weird as this record sounds – and it does sounds pretty darn weird – it still somehow fits in with the styles of the time…

10 thoughts on “321. ‘Mouldy Old Dough’, by Lieutenant Pigeon

  1. John Van der Kiste

    Guilty pleasures time. I have to admit I have always loved this record. It’s obscenely catchy, my parents did as well (is there no hope for me?), I bought a secondhand copy for peanuts about ten years later, and it still brings a grin to my face to remind me what fun it was to be eighteen again. My wife is a professional classical music teacher and musician and loves ‘Star Trekkin’ by The Firm. There are some very eccentric people around (we speak from personal experience).

  2. The boys were experimental home-made band Stavely Makepeace, who had been on TOTP, radio 1 and Lift Off With Ayshea previously without a hit, and this was just a bit of fun they bunged out but caught on because of matronly Hilda on piano – it was a big PR hook for the record to have son-mum in a band, and she brought back memories of Winifred Atwell and other 50’s piano-tinklers. Mouldy Old Dough was retro novelty, though I slightly preferred Desperate Dan (topped my personal charts :). By 1974 they were covering I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen and Stavely never did break through despite further singles..

    1. The charts around this time were a bit novelty-heavy… But this is a ‘novelty’ I can get behind – genuinely experimental and weird, it doesn’t set out to annoy or amuse, and is still very catchy underneath it all. Plus, with a sixty year old on piano!

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